Inside the bubble
According to a prominent Syrian media figure, President Bashar Al-Assad is living in a self-created bubble and is trying to export the crisis, writes Bassel Ouda
Ayman Abdel-Nour, a Syrian engineer and media personality, was a personal friend of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad when the latter came to power in 2000, only later becoming a staunch critic of the Al-Assad regimet.
As a journalist, he was able to observe the workings of the country's political infrastructure and its relations to the regime's centres of power.
The data Abdel-Nour has had access to over recent years has enabled him to build up a picture of the Syrian political system and centres of power, characteristic, he says, of totalitarian regimes.
In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Abdel-Nour said that al-Assad was the final decision-maker on all matters under the control of the intelligence agencies. No one in the Syrian leadership can countermand his orders, Abdel-Nour said, adding that at the beginning of the Syrian uprising some 17 months ago, decisions were taken by a working group that included Al-Assad, officers from the army and security, and a handful of politicians.
Al-Assad has long tried to fool the international community by painting himself as the protector of minorities, Abdel-Nour said.
Discussing the role of the military and security in decision-making in Syria, Abdel-Nour said that the "security agencies collect data on all political, economic and social sectors, far more than any civilian bodies. Each ministry and state institution has a security division that oversees its operations, and each submits daily reports by agents inside these institutions. As a result, the intelligence agencies have a better idea of how things work than the relevant ministries themselves."
"Even foreign policy is managed by the security agencies in Syria. Ties with Lebanon are run by a special branch overseen by the president's national adviser. Iraq also has a special branch under the supervision of the National Security Bureau. Palestine has several special branches, and relations with the Arab and foreign media are also managed by the security agencies, not the ministry of information, through the Syrian Arab Advertising Organisation allocates large sums of money to loyal publications and journalists. It also funds concerts for Arab artists loyal to the regime."
"The relationship with the US is the responsibility of the presidential palace. This means that the ministry of foreign affairs, like other ministries, is a front, just like the Baath Party itself. It is just a front for the personal rule of the Al-Assad family."
"None of the posts in Syria are worth much in themselves. A major in the army who is close to al-Assad is far more important than the prime minister, for example. Even Vice President Farouk Al-Sharaa has no actual powers. The prime minister does not know what is happening in foreign relations and is sent orders by the presidency to visit and coordinate, or to stop dealing with a certain country, and he just follows orders. He would not be told the reasons behind these instructions, and he is left to draw his own conclusions, either by himself or by reading the newspapers."
"Everyone is an employee, not a partner, and the security agencies control all strategic decisions in Syria, submitting proposals to the president to choose from or to reject."
Abdel-Nour, who is editor of the popular All4Syria website whose readership exceeds that of all the Syrian state newspapers combined, said that the Syrian "security agencies compete for the president's confidence, and he manipulates them by picking incompatible leaders."
"Al-Assad has the final word on all strategic decisions, and if he signs a decree or issues verbal orders they are carried out and no one would dare not to implement them. He has access to more information than any security agency individually."
According to the Syrian opposition, nine security agencies operate in Syria, and there is no clear coordination between them, though each has an apparently unlimited mandate. Military security routinely interferes in civilian affairs, and overseas security intervenes in domestic affairs. Some opposition figures add that the president's personal security is in the hands of security and military agencies that do not coordinate amongst themselves, and in fact act to monitor each other.
Commenting on the methods employed by the Syrian regime in dealing with the uprising, Abdel-Nour said that "the revolution came as a shock to Al-Assad, but he realised that its success would pivot on its remaining peaceful. Therefore, he drew up a plan to kill the leaders of the protesters, while intimidating and frightening others with torture. This later developed into mass murder in order to force citizens to carry weapons and to defend themselves, thus changing the nature of the revolution from a peaceful one into an armed struggle or civil war. In this context, Al-Assad thinks he has a better chance of survival."
Of Al-Assad's political qualifications, Abdel-Nour, now living in exile, said that "before becoming president, he was well-liked, shy, and mild-mannered. He changed upon his return from the UK after the death of his brother Bassel in 1994 because of his military training and tutoring on leadership and politics."
"The substantial change came after he had become president because of the vast mandate he was given and the flattery of the hypocrites surrounding him. He really believes he has been chosen to lead Syria, like some kind of prophet. Today, he is entirely removed from reality and lives in a bubble that he has created for himself."
Responding to claims that Al-Qaeda has a presence in Syria fighting the Syrian regime, Abdel-Nour said that "the regime has released a large number of jihadist prisoners, and every time one of them is killed the regime claims he was a member of Al-Qaeda."
"Statements by the international community that Al-Qaeda is operating in Syria do not mean that such groups are working against the regime. There is evidence that they served the regime in operations in Iraq, and I believe that mentioning their existence is a pretext for intervention in Syrian affairs. When some countries hint that there is a 'third party' fighting in Syria, they mean Lebanon's Hizbullah, which was recently confirmed to be active on the border."
"The Syrian regime is moving on three fronts. First, it is moving among currents that embrace Al-Qaeda thinking, which exist in Syria and Lebanon and many of which are infiltrated by the Syrian security agencies. Second, it is persecuting Syrian Christians and other minorities, in order to gain the sympathy of the West and to paint al-Assad as the protector of minorities. Third, Al-Assad is seeking to export the crisis abroad, especially to Lebanon."
In recent days, fighting has broken out in several areas in Lebanon between Lebanese supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime. Observers fear that the fighting will escalate as a result of what is happening in Syria, while others claim that the Syrian regime is deliberately trying to spread the crisis to neighbouring states.
Of Moscow's position in the crisis, Abdel-Nour said that "the Russian regime has interests to protect because of Syria's geo-political location, irrespective of who is in power. So far, it has not been reassured that the regime that follows Al-Assad's will serve these interests, and therefore it still supports the incumbent regime."
"However, I believe that Russia has its own plans and scenarios, some of them to do with changing the regime under its own auspices."